Top 5 Audio-Drama Podcast Recommendations

About a year ago, I stumbled on my first audio-drama podcast, a fictional story told over a series of episodes and seasons. I occasionally cringed at some awkward voice-acting, but mostly, I was intrigued by this new experiment in story-telling. Or maybe more a return to a rather old way of storytelling. It was with the first episode of Limetown that I remember thinking, “Wow, this is going to be big!”

Two years later, okay, audio-drama podcasts haven’t exactly exploded in popularity, but some recent podcasts have reignited my certainty that this genre is going places! It’s a medium to watch—you heard it here first! (Though they’ve got to find a better way to market it than, “Television for your ears.” I’m looking at you, Tanis.)

Where to jump in? After stalking the fiction podcasts on iTunes over the past couple years, below are my top 5 recommendations as of July 2017.

Homecoming

HOMECOMING: Gimlet Media

Heidi was a psychologist in an experimental program for re-acclimating veteran soldiers into civilian life. Now, she’s hiding out as a waitress. This psychological thriller weaves together what happened.

One of the biggest flaws of most fiction podcasts is inconsistent acting and dialogue that doesn’t quite land as natural. Homecoming is a signpost that the game is being upped in the audio-drama world with its stellar cast of TV and movie actors. Caroline Keener, Oscar Isaac, David Schwimmer, and others deliver amazing performances that take this genre from amateur fun to the next level. Another podcast, Bronzeville, has followed suit, starring Laurence Fishburne, Larenz Tate, and Tika Sumpter and is next on my list to try. With this kind of talent coming into the playing field, I’m wondering if we might see some pay-to-listen podcasts in the future, but for now, we’re getting these excellent performances for free.

Bright Sessions

The Bright Sessions: Lauren Shippen

A series of taped therapy sessions with individuals struggling with supernatural abilities. But what, exactly, is their therapist up to? I’m currently in the middle of Season 1 of The Bright Sessions and am not surprised to find out it’s won multiple podcast awards. The acting is great, the characters are interesting, and I’m intrigued to unfurl the larger plot that’s being hinted at. You may notice there’s no production company. The actress who plays Sam is also the creator, writer, producer, social media maven, and on and on, which is the most enchanting thing I’ve ever heard (can I too make my own podcast story? hmm…).  I admit, this one took me a little while to get into because the first few episodes feel disjointed, jumping between three different patients. But give it a few episodes, an easy feat as they’re each around 15 minutes long, and you’ll start getting pulled in to the different stories and the mystery of whether their therapist is really in this to help patients.

Black Tapes

THE BLACK TAPES: Pacific Northwest Studies and Minnow Beats Whale

What starts as a piece on ghost hunting leads a journalist to the enigmatic founder of an organization dedicated to debunking the paranormal. While he’s exposed most of the cases sent his way as having rational explanations, there are a series of cases he hasn’t (yet?) been able to debunk, nicknamed, “the black tapes.” 

While this podcast has its flaws—inconsistent acting, dialogue that swings between sounding natural and scripted, exciting moments being told after the fact to accommodate the narrative tool of it being a podcast—this one gripped me and pulled me along the story unlike any other. It’s reminiscent of the X-Files and its episodes range from cool and spooky (like Episode 103, “The Unsound,” about a piece of music said to kill a person within one year after listening to it) to ones that gave me the real creeps (like Episode 104, “Turn That Frown Upside Down” about a murder straight out of an urban legend). If you like your podcasts to deliver the chills and thrills and can overlook the slightly amateur quality, I’d highly recommend the Black Tapes.

Rabbits big

Rabbits: Public Radio Alliance

While following the trail of her missing friend, a woman with a troubled past stumbles into a secret, dangerous game. Is it the key to finding her friend, or a path toward a similar fate?

I love the premise of this podcast, with its secret society of players and clues hidden in real life to follow. There are definite flaws in its execution: jumps in logic I didn’t quite buy and a lack of explanation for how the narrator found out about the supposedly highly secret game in the first place. You should also prepare for a Matrix-esque turn I would have been more prepared for if I’d read the podcast’s description rather than jumping in blindly. Despite that, it definitely kept me engaged and had a thought-provoking ending to its Season 1. It’s nice to have a first season wrap up in such a way that the podcast could continue or feel satisfyingly complete.

Limetown.png

Limetown: Two Up Productions

Ten years ago, the entire population of a small town in Tennessee disappeared, a case that mystified a nation. Investigative reporter, Lia Haddock, begins to poke around as part of a podcast, only to find the case isn’t cold and she may have gotten into something beyond what she’s capable of handling. 

Limetown has perhaps one of the strongest starts to an audio-drama I’ve ever heard. In the wake of Serial’s flash popularity, Limetown used it as a framework with a fictional story instead of a real-life one. Supposedly, there was supposed to be a Season 2, but the podcast got a book deal and started developing a TV pilot, which has delayed the production. The last episode was released in December 2015, so to say they’ve been distracted from the original form of the story is an understatement. Time will tell if this was a good call, as the podcast has largely fallen off people’s radar and new innovation and talent in the genre may make a return less exciting. That said, it’s absolutely worth a listen and, who knows, you may soon be seeing this “television for your ears” presentation on your actual television.


What do you think? Have you listened to any of the above? Feel I’ve missed a gem? Share in the comments below!

Be the Match: My Experience as a Bone Marrow Donor (Part 2)

This post is a continuation of Be the Match: My Experience as a Bone Marrow Donor (Part 1). Click the link to start there! 
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If my bone marrow donation felt like being carried on the shoulders of a Red Cross phlebotomist team, imagine me accidentally kicking one of them in the face and the whole team crashed to the ground in a mess of apple juice boxes and cookie crumbs. That should set the tone nicely for my white blood cell donation.

The bone marrow donation had been done in the SF Bay Area. I was now back at college, so the organization did a big shuffle and scheduled the new procedure to be done in LA, about two hours away from my college.

This time, when I went to the local blood donation center to get some samples drawn, I got yelled at for not drinking enough water beforehand. I cowered. “But the Red Cross phlebotomists gave me juice…”

To extract the cells, I’d have a needle in each arm. My blood would go out one arm, spin through a machine, and come back in my other one. It would take about four hours and I’d get to watch TV the whole time, so it sounded pretty easy peasy. I let my professors know. One even gave me a one-on-one makeup lecture so I didn’t fall behind.

So I could start the procedure at 7am sharp, the organization arranged a hotel room for the night before. I was used to having allergies, so my when my nose was runny earlier in the day, I didn’t think a thing of it. But as I started to drive, I started to feel bad. It wasn’t allergies. I was getting sick. I never got sick!

I frantically called the number they’d given me and explained the situation. The person on the other end asked me a lot of questions about the color of my snot. It was not a good snot color. She said to come down anyway. It was fine. 

Relieved, I checked into my hotel and jumped on the bed a few times. It was the first time I’d stayed in a hotel by myself. After clicking out the lights, I stared at the closet door, realizing someone could have been in there the whole time, hiding and waiting for murder. I lifted my textbook over my head as I ripped open the closet door.

I am now much better at staying at hotel rooms by myself.

I was not an early bird, nor big on breakfast. The procedure was due to end at 11am, which was when I’d normally eat anyway, so I figured I’d wait and celebrate with a nice meal. 

This time, the hospital was a lot less intimidating, knowing I didn’t even have to change out of my clothes for this procedure. I settled onto a bed holding my box of kleenex next to the one other patient in the place. They’d closed the curtains around the lady next to me, announcing she was, “all done!”

“Oh my! That WHOLE thing was in my arm?”

Uh…what now?

My straining to catch a glimpse of said needle was interrupted when a doctor appeared, frowning. His expression was not kidding around. “You told the intake nurse you have a cold?”

“Uh yeah? I called down yesterday. They said it was fine.”

“Who did you talk to?” From the look on the doctor’s face, that person was in huge trouble. This was a serious problem.

ancestry.jpgThey tried to call the recipient’s doctors, but they couldn’t get a hold of them—something about them having closed and time differences (someone had already let it slip to me that the recipient lived in Germany) and having to track people down off-shift. We’d have to wait.

I kept yo-yoing between staring at my stupid kleenex box with horrendous guilt and wanting to pace around in defensive anger. I had called. I hadn’t meant to get sick. Oh god, was my cold really going to kill someone?

A nurse came on shift who didn’t join the huddle of tense whispers. He sat next to me and switched on the TV, making jokes about the available movie options. He confided that he was going to tell everyone I needed his strict supervision so he could ditch his job and watch movies too. My stomach unknotted for the first time in hours and I had never been more grateful for another human being in my life. 

Finally, at around 1:30pm, Frowning Doctor walked up. They’d already “destroyed” the recipient’s immune system, so we had to do this now. Well, that sounded horrifying, so okay, let’s do this thing. Everyone left so a nurse I hadn’t met yet could hook me up.

The nurse held up the needle and I had the same reaction as the lady from earlier: Sweet baby Jesus, are you certain that’s not a joke needle ma’am?

The nurse started having trouble “threading it up” my vein. Frustrated, she wiggled it around, then took her free hand and began hitting the end of it to try to jam it up into my arm.

Another nurse sprinted over, jaw hanging open. “What are you doing????” She pushed the first nurse out of the way. “Are you okay?”

I flapped my free hand. “Yeah, yeah. Only, I should probably tell you that I feel a little weird…”

The nurse took one look at my face and ripped a pin out of the bed. The head of the bed slammed down to be fully horizontal, just as my breathing started to come in fast gasps.

Competent Nurse raced into a storage room, screaming orders. She was soon pressing ice packs on my wrist, neck, and legs. Across the room, some young guy in scrubs was looking through his brown lunch sack when someone viciously ripped it from his hands and dumped out the contents, missing the counter in her urgency. A pudding cup exploded across the floor at the poor guy’s feet and he let out a startled, “Wha?” probably thinking this was a petty hazing ritual.

His lunch bag was shoved over my nose and mouth and a nurse hovered over me, coaching me through slowing down my breathing, though it felt impossible to get control back over my lungs. My nurse buddy would later explain that when you hyperventilate, you breathe out carbon dioxide so fast, it messes up the balance in your body. The paper bag forced me to breathe some of it back in to restore the balance. So yeah, I may have skipped cultural anthropology class that day, but I got a rather hands on biology practicum. Don’t be jealous.

Once the crisis was over and the paper bag was removed, Frowning Doctor loomed at the end of the bed, arms crossed. “When did you last eat?”

In all the stress, I had completely forgotten about my 11am post-procedure breakfast plans.

Frowning Doctor shooed everyone away and took me down to the cafeteria. Miserably, I apologized and blew my nose. Frowning Doctor softened for a minute and bought me some food. “It’s been a long day.”

I am pretty certain we were both thinking this day was turning out a lot like that nurse’s pudding cup.

18 to 44The next set up went without a hitch. The needle in my right arm rested against my vein, which would flutter uncomfortably for the next few hours as though a butterfly had been trapped inside my arm. My nurse buddy spent a lot of the time next to me, trying to cheer me up. I did my best to let myself be cheered up.

We were finally done around 7pm. Be The Match tried to book me another hotel for the night, which I absolutely should have taken, but I insisted on going home. I walked into the parking garage and finally turned my cellphone back on (there had been “no cellphones” notices glaring at me while I’d been inside and I didn’t have a text plan). I had about seven voicemails and a dozen missed calls from my mom. The voicemails got increasingly panicked. After I hadn’t responded to her for eight hours after my procedure was supposed to be done, she’d concluded that I’d been kidnapped by the recipient’s henchmen to be taken back to Germany and harvested for my marrow. 

As I had spent the previous night attacking closet phantoms, this struck me as insane, but strangely logical. 

Several months later, I was walking through campus when my Be The Match representative called me. She said they usually waited longer to talk to a donor about the outcome of a donation, but if I’d like to know, she’d tell me now. I braced myself and said I’d like to know.

My recipient did not survive. The representative explained that she’d been on the registry for a long time waiting for a match and she’d been very sick by the time I’d come along. The recipient and her family had known this would be a long shot, but they’d wanted to feel as though they’d done everything possible. They wanted to try. 

And so, I’m glad I tried with them. People sometimes think that because this story didn’t have a happy ending, I must regret having signed up. I must regret the time and the discomfort and the involvement since it was all for nothing. 

But I don’t think it was for nothing. The reality is, it was a few days from my life spent trying to help someone else. I was back on my feet less than a week after my bone marrow donation surgery, and that’s considered a longer-than-typical recovery time. I had to recover more from my cold than my white blood cell donation. Maybe all I gave was hope, but other people do save lives.

I’d never tell anyone they should register—it’s a highly personal choice. But I hope this story does defeat the idea that it would take a superhero or a saint to donate bone marrow. 

In my case, it only took a clueless girl not wanting to look bad in front of her friends who was given a chance to step up.

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Pink Poo, the lamb (not poodle!) my mom got for me after my bone marrow donation who still rides around with me for luck.

Learn more about bone marrow, PBSC, or cord blood donation and other ways to support the National Marrow Donor Program at BeTheMatch.org. If you’re interested in registering, they’ll mail you a mouth swab kit for free.

If you’ve got questions, I’ll answer them as best I can from my experience. Just leave a comment below or head on over to the Contact page.  

Be the Match: My Experience as a Bone Marrow Donor (Part 1)

campus be the matchWhen I signed up for the bone marrow donation registry in my freshman year of college, I wish I could say I did so with the noble passion to save lives. The truth is, I started following a group of girls from my dorms before I knew where they were going, then felt I couldn’t ditch out without seeming like a jerk. A pamphlet got me nervous about what I was signing up for. Surgery? For a stranger?

As I was getting my blood sample taken (they’ve since upgraded to a simple cheek swab), I quietly expressed doubt to the phlebotomist.

“Don’t worry,” she said, “the chances are so slim of getting called, if you ever do, you’ll be 80 and too old to do it.”

All the way back, we giggled over cartoon drawings of what looked like a doctor drilling through a patient’s butt cheeks. Yeah, thank god I’d never actually have to go through with that. 

Less than three months later, I got an envelope in the mail.

I was a match. I wasn’t 80. 

But that letter represented a real person out there in a terrible situation. What if it had been my mom, or me, or a friend? I know how desperate I’d feel.

The first thing my roommate said when I told her I was doing it was, “You’re getting the butt surgery??”

You know, in case I was feeling too much like a sexy hero.

BTM_MythsFacts_3From there, we did a lot of medical testing to ensure I really was a good match and that I was healthy enough to be a good donor. In preparation for the surgery, I went to a Red Cross blood donation center. Apparently, it’s helpful to have your own blood on hand during a surgery so they can give it back to you to replace any that’s lost. To do this, they take more than in a normal donation, and because I’m rather small, the staff was certain I was going to pass out on them. The only patient in the clinic, the staff pushed apple juice boxes and cookies at me like I was being fattened up for a pie. The blood draw went smoothly and when it was done, they surrounded me with more juice and wouldn’t allow me to even sit up as though they were the loyal servants of a queen, aged 6. (“More juice and cookies, I say! And fetch me a crayon box!”)

I broke the news to them that I really did have to get up because I’d drunk more than my weight in juice and had to go to the bathroom. They offered me a bed pan. I looked to the floor to ceiling windows right next me. A child skipped by, looking in. I declined the offer. My entourage of about five women held my arms during the walk, then stationed themselves in and out of the bathroom, ready to defend my privacy against the zero other people in the clinic (I was not allowed to close the stall door) or to rush in the second I pitched sideways.

At one point, the front door chimed and a man said, “Is this where we give bloo—”

“Sir, we are handling a situation right now!” one staffer half-screamed.

When the man watched me emerge, admittedly wobbly at that point, with the entire staff of the clinic shoving snacks and juice at me, I wonder if he thought I was famous.

Sorry sir, not all of us can be donation celebrities. 

2b-be_the_match-3_ways_to_donate_marrowThe only time I got nervous throughout the entire process was right before going into surgery. To calm myself, I summoned my deepest level of nerd meditation and recalled a fan fiction story I’d once read where Harry Potter had bone marrow surgery and nearly exploded with magic. In my anxious state, it made sense that if a fictional wizard in a fan’s story could do this, surely it was all going to be fine.  

When I came to, my mom, face tense with worry, held up a cute stuffed pink lamb she’d gotten me from the gift store. I could tell this whole thing had been harder on her than me.

An orderly tested my blood. “Ah, it’s a nice, rich red.”

Groggily, I muttered, “At least it’s not green anymore.”

The orderly looked sympathetically at my mom. “She’s still delirious from the anesthesia.”

My mom gave me a knowing look that read, If only we could blame your sense of humor on drugs.

I’ve heard other donors talk about going back to work the next day. I, however, am very sensitive to painkillers and spent the next couple days sleeping and comfortably hallucinating about helicopters. Within a week, though, I moved myself back down to college in a car filled to the brim. Insisting I did not need help with that move may have not been my smartest call, but I did it. A few weeks later, even the bruised feeling in my lower back was gone.

When the lab I worked in found out what I’d done, they put my name up on the white board of the lab for, “saving a life.”

…They then violently erased it when I said I didn’t find Tom Cruise attractive.

“But I saved a life!” I pouted.

“And you have no taste,” said my lab director. It was a unique managerial style.

In actuality, none of us knew if I had saved a life. I’d explained when my name went up that the organization wouldn’t be telling me the outcome for one to two years. But I was so happy I’d done it. My director sent out an email to the lab titled, “Brandi is a H-E-R-O,” and I admit, it made me feel proud.

A few months later, however, the organization got in touch with me. My recipient was not doing well. I was surprised. All the advertising I’d seen was about saving lives and it hadn’t really occurred to me that my donation might not work, even though they’d tried to explain that was a possibility.

Prefacing everything with the acknowledgement that I had already done more than enough, they asked if I’d be willing to give white blood cells. I agreed without hesitation, now feeling less like this was some feat of bravery and more aware that someone out there had heard this same news and had to be scared. I asked them to send me the information right away.

As this is a long story, I’ll break here. Stay tuned for part two…

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While my experience is with bone marrow donation, many people donate through a non-surgical process called Peripheral Blood Stem Cell (PBSC) donation. You can learn more about either process and hear other people recount their experiences at www.bethematch.org.

If you have questions about the bone marrow donation process, don’t hesitate to ask! I can only speak from my own experience, but I’m happy to share what I can. I’d also love to hear your stories.

If you liked this post, you may also enjoy Apartment Horror Stories, Part One: Santa Barbara and the Microwave and Petty Crime and Disco: An Ode to Mariah.

Petty Crime and Disco: An Ode to Mariah

door-knob-1924315_1280.jpgI once had a neighbor named Mariah.

I had just moved, leaving behind a city and my roommates. The first weekend in my apartment, I was missing the constant chatter that meant no TV episode could ever truly be watched, but was excited about this new, mature stage of my life. This was my big step into independence. I would be a real adult now. Nothing could stop me now!

The first time I took out the trash, I locked myself out.

I had been weekend-cleaning like a grown-up. Listening to my time-warp playlist like…a cool person? The high pitched voices of the Jackson Five mocked me from the screened windows too high up to reach as I shook the door with both hands and begged for it to open.

I had no phone, no keys, no wallet. I knew no one in town.

Wincing, I knocked on my neighbor’s door.

The door opened to reveal a girl in her young twenties and an apartment covered in reggae posters.

“The landlord doesn’t give out his number,” she said, following me outside, “and the property manager’s closed on weekends.”

I let out a pitiful groan.

She pointed at my windows. “Oh, we can totally get you inside.”

I was skeptical. “Aren’t the screens screwed in? And it’s too high.”

With a dismissive wave of her hand, she went back into her apartment, presumably for a chair. Instead, she came back out with a driver’s license. She reached above her head and started jimmying the screen. At second glance, I realized the driver’s license was not hers.

She must have seen the look on my face. “Don’t worry,” she said, “my boyfriend showed me how to do this.”

This made me worry for other reasons. 

Mariah paused. “Is that…the BeeGees?”

I went red. “Um…”

“Hell. Yeah. I love the BeeGees.” She danced along to Night Fever as she worked.

The screen popped out. I let out an embarrassingly excited, “Look! Look! You did it!!!”

Without a word, she threaded her fingers together and we shared the look of two former cheerleaders (or…burglars? Mariah, what is your life?), and she heaved me up and through the window. I grunted as I tumbled through and landed in an awkward crash of limbs and furniture.

I limped-ran over to the door and threw it open in triumph. “We did it!” I exclaimed, as though my watching her had been a meaningful part of the effort.

Mariah wiped the dirt off her fake ID and slipped it back into her jean pocket. All in a day’s work, her casual smile seemed to say. She said nothing, just swung her hips to the final notes of the song. I did my own little dance of happiness that was nowhere near as graceful.

Then, she wandered off to lock her boyfriend out of their apartment until he banged on the door, demanding and then begging to be let in. He might have known how to get through windows, but apparently wouldn’t dare climb through Mariah’s windows while she was peeved at him.

That was my only interaction with Mariah before she moved away, but here are some things I know in my heart to be true about her:

1. If I needed to flee town in the midst of a movie-like, every-man-for-himself disaster, Mariah would have a seat in my car. Her skills would be important to the survival squad as we road-tripped through destruction. She’d hot wire cars and siphon gasoline, all while humming disco standards.

2. In a heist, Mariah wouldn’t break a sweat as she lock-picked a safe, even as police sirens drew closer and closer. She would spend the entire time bickering with her boyfriend as he patched together some quick flash-bang explosives. 

3. In a zombie attack, Mariah would inevitably lock her boyfriend out of the compound while zombies advanced. He would yell to be let back in, but she would calmly demand he apologize first. He would scream, “I’m sorry, okay?” This would not be good enough. She’d tell him he didn’t sound like he meant it as the zombies drew near and her boyfriend clawed frantically at the door. She’d finally open the door, letting her boyfriend collapse inside while she smoked a couple reaching zombies without effort. When she locked up after them, over the sound of zombie-hands pawing at the door, she’d put her hands on her hips and say, “I deserve respect around this compound.” And they’d yell at each other all the way to the kitchen.

4. Mariah is the coolest neighbor I will ever have.

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If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy, Apartment Horror Stories, Part One: Santa Barbara and the Microwave and Apartment Horror Stories, Part Two: San Francisco and Raccoon Warfare.

Throwing it to you: Have you ever had an intriguing neighbor? Ever locked yourself out?

Apartment Horror Stories, Part Two: San Francisco and Raccoon Warfare

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When I moved into San Francisco, I remember thinking it would be a glamorous, artsy, intellectual part of my life. I would be inspired by the culture and the hustle. I would write. I would learn. I would have experiences.

I had some experiences, alright.

Now this story is hard to tell without understanding some basics about the layout of my 2nd floor apartment. I’ve included an illustration below that demonstrates how my art skills flourished during my time in SF.

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Waiting for my call back from the SF MOMA.

Longing for nature, I was looking out the kitchen window into the cement shaft that ran down the center of the building to our floor. The shaft had always boggled me. I could step out my window onto it and look up at the sky, but thats about all that could be done with it. I guessed it was to vent kitchen smells or to keep the occupant of my bedroom from going insane.

From the space between our building and the giant wood fence that separated us from the next door neighbors, a raccoon popped up onto the ledge. Gleeful, I called my roommates over.

“Aw, it’s so cute!” we cooed. So naive. So innocent.

With that warm welcome, the raccoon moved in with all his buddies. They spent nights hosting Raccoon Fight Club. They would poop outside my window in the shaft and my landlord would call to ask me to clean it up. One little monster reveled in my startled cries when I opened up the blinds to find it staring at me once a week. Claws scratched at the wall behind my bed and I knew with absolute certainty that one night, a raccoon paw would finally burst through the plaster of my wall, grab my hair, and drag me to raccoon hell.

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“Hello, Clarice.”

It went on for months. They couldn’t be caught and relocated because the city was infested with the garbage-munchers. Under the guidance of the internet, I sprinkled cayenne pepper on the ledge where they strutted around—supposedly, the taste would repel them. Nope, one glared smugly at me as it licked cayenne off his paws. If it had stuck up its middle claw and scurried off sniggering, it would have felt right.

My landlord covered the spaces where the raccoons were climbing onto the ledge with fencing. They hissed and shook the chainlink with their paws and their night battles were now accompanied by the crashing of metal. In his limited English, my landlord told me he had some “cat powder” that could get rid of them for good. I was unsure if he misunderstood what we were dealing with or if this was just his word for raccoons, but I figured something called “cat powder” wasn’t about to do the trick. I decided to try one more tactic I’d read about—playing talk radio near their nest.

I stepped out into the shaft in my sweat pants and tank top, holding my clock radio, talking with my mom on my flip phone (yes it took me forever to get a smart phone). Three raccoons climbed up the fencing to watch.

I switched on the radio, flashed them a “Take that!” look, and went back inside. As I sat down on my bed, I noticed something weird. My arm looked…black. And…my sweatpants were moving.

Fleas. I was covered in hundreds and hundreds of fleas.

The last thing my mom heard before my cell phone hit the floor and snapped shut was me starting to scream.

By a miracle, one of my roommates had left out a bottle of flea spray. I shut my door and sprayed it wildly, knowing the raccoons were laughing with evil delight as they watched me poison myself. But I knew if I ran from the room without dispensing every last drop from that spray bottle, my bedroom would forever belong to the fleas.

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“LOL, look at her go! Those fleas have got her dancing! Great idea, Bob.”

Ten minutes later, I stood in the bathroom, my brave roommate pulling fleas out of my ears and my hair while I picked them from eyelashes.

I called my landlord. It was time for the cat powder.

He walked in wearing what looked like a hazmat suit—I think in reality it was a painter’s suit and mask—holding a can with a white label someone had scrawled two words on in pen. “Cat Powder.”

He sprinkled it over the ledge down to where the raccoons nested while I searched for other places to live on the computer.

To this day, I have no idea what was in that can. All I can say is that I never saw a raccoon near my apartment building again.

I’m expecting my radioactive super powers to kick in any day. Some mornings, when I noticed dark circles around my eyes, I wonder if it’s beginning. If one day, you find me fighting in an alley and digging through trash with superhuman strength, get the cat powder.

For other stories of apartment horror, check out Part 1: Santa Barbara and the Microwave. Ominous enough for ya?


Like what you read? Comment below with your own apartment horror stories or follow the blog. Hope to see you again!

Apartment Horror Stories, Part One: Santa Barbara and the Microwave

10533443_10103376478127597_3479849254700546766_nMy second year of college in Santa Barbara, I moved into my very first apartment. I had an air mattress, a bean bag chair, and a very low bar for living standards. It was the best of times.

Granted, when I joyously threw open the kitchen window, I found myself face to face with a painting on a shed of a man with his hand over the mouth of a crying child and the words, “Fermez la bouche!” (Shut your mouth!, for those non-francophiles) Was this a political statement or a warning from the local French mafia? Oh well! I was soon distracted by the children in the building who ran after me demanding money like orphans from a Dickens novel and the discovery that across the street were three unmarked frat houses whose residents did not know the difference between a school night and, say, Carnivale.

Living somewhere tropical is paradise, but it does come with a catch. Aside from rowdy frat boys. That catch is bugs. Once, I saw something peeking around the bottom of my slightly-open door that I thought was my roommate’s shoe. I figured she was going to try jumping out to scare me. I rolled my eyes and said, “I can see you, Erin,” and from across the apartment, Erin’s voice called back, “What?” The shoe revealed itself as an alien monster called a potato bug that skittered into my room. I can only assume the neighbors didn’t call the police at the sounds of my primal screams because I hadn’t paid up when their Dickens children tried to shake me down for cash.

But nothing compared to when cockroaches built a nest inside our microwave.

I would like to say we IMMEDIATELY sent that microwave to hell to burn. I don’t know quite how long we kept it around, but too long. Too long. The cockroaches crawled under the glass of the clock, streaking across the lit-up numbers. Sometimes, when pressing the buttons, you’d hear a, “Beep, beep, BZZZZ.” That last sound I can only guess was a cockroach getting the electric chair.

microwave
Oh look, just like the one from my nightmares…

The worst part is, microwaves don’t kill cockroaches. We’d have to pay careful attention while heating up a meal, because often a cockroach would appear out of a vent and start scrambling straight toward the good stuff. We’d rip open the door, screaming, and it would race back into hiding.

One day, enough was enough. We had a break from midterms and were tired of defending our food with the savagery of prison inmates. We bought a brand new microwave.

We stared at the old one, strategizing.

The microwave had to go to the dumpster. But whoever picked it up risked cockroaches crawling all over them. We struck a deal. I would put the microwave into the box, which my roommate would then seal while I screamed and slapped cockroaches off me, then run it to the dumpster where she would scream and slap cockroaches off of her.

I took deep breaths and jogged in place as Erin pep-talked me. Then, I grabbed it and lifted it up.

Tiny cockroaches swarmed the counter.

I dumped the microwave in the box. I think the screams I heard were mine, but my soul had floated out of my body by that point, so who knows.

We stuck to the plan. We got the counter cleaned, the microwave to the dumpster, and our new microwave gleamed proudly at us.

Erin ran one more load of our cleanup trash to the dumpster, and returned looking ill. “The box is gone.”

“The trash collectors came already?”

She swallowed. “No.”

It dawned. Someone had seen an old microwave and believed they’d scored a new appliance. The microwave would take another victim. Like the video in The Ring, the cockroach microwave could not be destroyed, the evil could only be passed on.

When I ultimately moved out of that place, I remember smiling and thinking, “Goodbye, dumpy apartment. Now, I enter real adulthood with grownup apartments in my future. I’ll look back on this time and laugh, and I will never deal with gross crises like that again.”

As those of you who are familiar with foreshadowing will pick up, I wasn’t exactly correct.

Happy Thanksgiving! (I shout as everyone has suddenly lost their appetites.) I personally will be thankful for bug-free kitchen appliances. For more stories of apartment horrors, check out for Apartment Horror Stories, Part Two: San Francisco and Raccoon Warfare.


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